Personas are an essential part of any design process. They are a fabricated representation of the target user base for a given product. Personas summarize user needs, goals, motivations, and demographics to provide designers a guideline toward which they must align their designs. As one of the first steps designers take for nearly every project, it is critical to ask ourselves whether we are accurately representing the world we live in today.
In the article Diversity and Design: How we can shape a more inclusive industry? Brownen Rees writes:
As designers, we do more than just live this in world, we create experiences that directly impact the lives of others and ourselves.
If designers consider the charge of creating experiences that impact the lives of others, we must also consider the many different paths these lives may take before, during, and after their interactions with our products.
A search for “user persona examples” results in a 3:1 ratio of samples that include white/Caucasian people to those showing non-white/minority images. The demographics of the industry are partially responsible for the narrow view that has become standard in design. According to the American Institute of Graphic Arts’ (AIGA) 2017 Design Census:
- 60% of design professionals identify as White/Caucasian
- Black, Latinx, Asian, and Native American designers combined comprise less than 35%
- The remaining percentage is divided between prefer not to say and other.
Inclusive imagery is critical for the foundations of design and is gaining traction as a discussion in the industry. Shea Moisture, a famous natural hair care brand, recently came under fire for releasing an ad in which three of the four models were white, when its biggest market and long-term support base has been black women. This commercial was intended to highlight a diverse customer base, but fell flat as it instead told a story that did not accurately represent their active majority.
Though this example may seem unrelated, the commercial is simply a set of personas that were publicized. An entry on the InVision blog highlights three websites geared towards providing diverse photography. That there are so few indicate the lack of resources within the industry and the need for more attention toward inclusive design.
The process of persona development often begins with user data, then designers select/fabricate biographic stories to supplement their vision and enhance their connection to the user. However, we often pursue faces and names that carry some familiarity. Envisioning an aunt, sibling, or friend helps us craft more realistic personas because they are amalgamations of people we know. Designers must rise to the challenge of discomfort in creating personas that have different backgrounds, lifestyles, and priorities than ourselves or our immediate network.
The UXellence article, Use Diverse Personas and Better Scenarios to Light Dark Alleys, captures the importance of these considerations in the title. Stepping beyond the constraints of our own comfort and social circles can cast light on overlooked or invisible hindrances. Expanded insight leads to stronger, more thoughtful design, and ultimately generate better user experiences.